Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

We have one family member who can be counted on to always have some ache or pain. Last night, we had a small fender bender while driving her home. I'm just sure she's going to end up with whiplash for the rest of her life. Is there anything we can do to keep this from happening?

Answer:

Even minor fender benders can create enough force to cause a flexion-extension injury of the neck referred to as whiplash. Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) and late whiplash syndrome (LWS) are fairly common problems after a car accident. But why one person develops this condition and someone else in the same accident doesn't, remains a mystery.

Researchers have investigated numerous possible risk factors. They've looked at psychologic problems, distress levels, and cognitive level of function as possibilities. Studies have been done looking for a link between personality traits, anxiety, history of emotional problems and whiplash disorders.

There may be some defining or prognostic factors. But the studies that have been done were not well designed. Results of low quality research are not reliable enough to use as evidence.

Some studies of chronic low back pain have found that beliefs about pain and fear of pain can result in a reaction called fear avoidance. Fear avoidance is the belief that certain movements or activities should be avoided to prevent pain or re-injury from occurring.

It's possible that people who develop chronic whiplash start out with fear avoidance behaviors. Best practice suggests keeping active during the recovery process. It may be helpful to get out together and go for a walk everyday for the next week. The activity may provide a distraction and the movement may help in the healing process. Esther Williamson, et al. A Systematic Literature Review of Psychological Factors and the Development of Late Whiplash Syndrome. In Pain. Vol. 135. No. 1-2. Pp. 20-30.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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